Underdog Sooners not ‘scared’ of Alabama

Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard said Alabama is still the best team, and he's ready to "shock the country." (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard said Alabama is still the best team, and he’s ready to “shock the country.” (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. – Gabe Lynn understands if Oklahoma is considered an overwhelming underdog in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama.

Just don’t expect the senior safety to react with such understanding when asked if the No. 11 Sooners are “scared” of the Crimson Tide – a question several teammates have been peppered with since the bowl selections were announced Dec. 8.

“Nobody’s asked me that, but (they’ve) kind of talked about how they’re such a great team or whatever (and) how we can’t play with them,” Lynn said. “I’ve heard stuff like that, but I haven’t heard anything like, ‘We’re scared of them.’ Because we’re definitely not scared of them.”

Oklahoma (10-2), a 16-point underdog, will have its chance to prove worthy of a BCS bowl selection tonight when it takes on third-ranked Alabama (11-1).

The game carries with it plenty of intrigue simply because of the presence of the Crimson Tide – winners of three of the last four national championships and the premier program in college football since coach Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007.

The might of Alabama, however, is far from the only story line.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops made sure of that as far back as last spring when he challenged the notion that the Southeastern Conference – which has fielded the last seven national champions – is the most complete league in the country.

Stoops called some of the stories about SEC supremacy “propaganda.” He followed that by taking a jab at SEC defenses this season, all of which made for quality radio and Internet material.

The winningest coach in Oklahoma history, having surpassed former Sooners coach Barry Switzer this season, has wanted little to do with the SEC story line leading to today’s game. The closest he’s come to providing clarity on his earlier comments about the conference was to say he was talking about the lack of quality teams in the league’s bottom half – not teams like Alabama.

“There’s always a lot of talk because newspapers have to be filled and airtime has to be filled,” Stoops said. “You have to talk about something. We don’t concern ourselves with it, really. That’s their job to do. Our job is to get ready to play and to do the work we do.”

SEC skid

Stoops has lost three games in a row to SEC teams, including a Sugar Bowl loss to LSU after the 2003 season and to Florida in the national championship game after the 2008 season. He’s 3-4 overall against the league, with the latest loss coming against Texas A&M in last season’s Cotton Bowl.

The last SEC team Stoops and Oklahoma beat was Alabama – doing so in back-to-back regular-season games during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

Of course, that was the pre-Saban Crimson Tide, and the games were also the last time the Sooners played an SEC team during the regular season.

Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard knows few expect the Sooners to win or even stay close. The senior said he wanted to play the Crimson Tide at the beginning of the season, though he had hoped to do so in the national championship game.

Ikard still considers Alabama the “best team in college football,” and now he’d love to shock the country.

“Alabama’s been the king of college football, so they deserve all that respect,” Ikard said. “Now it’s up to us to go down there and play them well and go get our Sugar Bowl victory.”

Yeldon key for Bama

T.J. Yeldon is a man of many yards and few words, which so far has suited third-ranked Alabama quite well.

After tonight, though, some of the program’s leaders, namely quarterback AJ McCarron, will be leaving school. Then Yeldon, whether he wants to or not, is expected to become the face of the Crimson Tide.

“We’ve got to try to get him to talk more, step up and be in a little more of a leadership role,” McCarron said after the Tide’s arrival in New Orleans this week. “But he’s an unbelievable back. He’s done a lot for us in two years.”

No one’s arguing with that last part.

He gained over 100 yards in his very first Alabama game as a true freshman in 2012 and hasn’t looked back. This season, he inherited the starting role that opened up when Eddie Lacy turned pro, gaining 1,163 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns on 190 carries, an average of 6.1 yards a carry.

But for Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, those stats didn’t tell the whole story of the 6-foot-2, 218-pound sophomore’s development.

“T.J. is a guy last year as he came in had instant success early, and one of the things that people see when you talk about the running back position is they see what the player does with the ball in his hands,” Nussmeier said. “But there’s so much more to playing the position. I think T.J. has really grown in that aspect, his attention to detail and protections, his understanding of the overall scheme, the blocking schemes and how we’re doing things up front to create holes for him. He’s really grown in that way this season.”

Yeldon said he placed increased emphasis this season on “learning the game and understanding more of my blocks.”

He figured if he did that, the yards, touchdowns and wins would take care of themselves.

“I didn’t really set goals,” Yeldon said. “I just came out wanting to help my team and be a better player this year than I was last year.”